Special Exhibits

Holiday Traditions, November 17, 2018 - January 6, 2019


Holiday Traditions

November 17, 2018 - January 6, 2019

On November 17, 2018, the Hoover Museum opens its annual Christmas tree exhibit, this year's theme is Holiday Traditions. This all new exhibit will feature 17 decorated trees, each one showcasing a different holiday tradition. The trees will be on display until January 6, 2019.

The celebration of Christmas is richer in tradition than any other holiday that our country celebrates because we have adopted holiday traditions and customs from all over the world. Many customs - caroling, Santa, stockings, and gingerbread - originated in Europe. Americans have embraced these traditions and added their own special rituals to make them uniquely their own as they have passed down through many generations. 

The Germans introduced the Christmas tree to America. Many years before the celebration of Christmas began, the Germans used evergreens to decorate their houses. They believed that these trees represented life and immortality and would protect their homes from evil. There are many stories about how the tree first appeared in America - but the result is the same - rare is the home that does not decorate a tree at Christmas.

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas and Papa Noel, is a legendary figure originating in Western Christian culture. The modern version of Santa Claus that we know today was created from the writings of Clement C. Moore, Washington Irving and the drawings of Thomas Nast.  

Other traditions included in the exhibit are: the 12 Days of Christmas, Caroling, Angels, Christmas Cards, Frosty, Rudolph, Gingerbread, Christmas Lights, the Christmas Tree, North Pole, Santa, and the Poinsettia. 

The holidays are a time to share traditional rituals with family and friends. Gift-giving, caroling, tree decorating, baking cookies and hanging stockings are all traditions that have been passed down through the years. All of these traditions begin with stories, some fact and some fiction. The decorated trees in this year's exhibit tell these stories.

The Trees

A Christmas Carol

The Christmas Carol tree.


A Christmas Carol is a novel by Charles Dickens first published in 1843.  It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. After their visits Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol at a time when the British were examining and exploring Christmas traditions from the past, such as carols, as well as new customs such as Christmas trees. He was influenced by experiences from his own past, and from the Christmas stories of other authors, including Washington Irving and Douglas Jerrold.  Published on December 19, 1843, the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve; by the end of 1844, 13 editions had been released. Most critics reviewed the novella positively. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print and has been translated into several languages; the story has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera, and other media.

Christmas Cards

Sir Henry Cole, a British civil servant and inventor, started the custom of selling Christmas cards in 1843.  Cole had the idea of Christmas cards with his friend John Callcott Horsley, who was an artist. They designed the first card and sold them for one shilling each (eight cents today). About 1,000 were printed and sold. They are now very rare and cost thousands of dollars.

The Christmas Card tree.


Christmas cards appeared in the United States in the late 1840s, but most people couldn't afford them. In 1915, John C. Hall and two of his brothers created Hallmark Cards, one of the biggest card makers today.

In the 1910s and 1920s, homemade cards became popular. They were often unusual shapes and had decorations such as foil and ribbon on them. These were usually too delicate to send through the mail and were given by hand.

Now, cards have all sorts of images on them, as well as music, pop up features and 3D objects. Charities often sell their own Christmas cards as a way to raise money at Christmas.  In the United States alone, about two billion cards are sent out annually.  With millennials, personalized photo cards have become very popular.

North Pole and Santa

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, and Papa Noel, is a legendary figure originating in Western Christian culture. He is known to bring gifts to the homes of well-behaved (“nice”) children on Christmas Eve (December 24). The modern Santa Claus grew out of traditions surrounding the historical Saint Nicholas (a fourth-century Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra), the British figure of Father Christmas and the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas.

North Pole and Santa Christmas tree.


For some people Santa Claus is also the Germanic god Wodan, who was associated with the pagan midwinter event of Yule. In Western culture, Santa Claus is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white-bearded man—sometimes with glasses—wearing a red coat with white fur collar and cuffs, white-fur-cuffed red trousers, a red hat with white fur and black leather belt and boots and who carries a bag full of gifts for children. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of the 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas and of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast. This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, children's books, films, and advertising.

Santa Claus is said to make lists of children throughout the world, categorizing them as“naughty” or “nice.” He delivers gifts to all well-behaved children in the world, and coal to all the misbehaved children, on the night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of his elves, who make the toys in his workshop at the North Pole, and his flying reindeer, who pull his sleigh. He is commonly portrayed as living at the North Pole, and often laughing in a way that sounds like "ho ho ho".


No confection symbolizes the holidays quite like gingerbread; in its many forms, from edible houses to candy-studded gingerbread men to spiced loaves of cake-like bread.

In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant “preserved ginger” and wasn’t applied to the desserts we are familiar with until the 15th century. The term is now broadly used to describe any type of sweet treat that combines ginger with honey, treacle, or molasses.

Ginger root was first cultivated in ancient China, where it was commonly used as a medical treatment. From there it spread to Europe via the Silk Road (The Silk Road refers to both the land and the maritime routes connecting East Asia and Southeast Asia with East Africa, West Asia and Southern Europe). During the Middle Ages it was favored as a spice for its ability to disguise the taste of preserved meats.

Gingerbread Christmas tree.


Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale or vice versa.

Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves:

Soft gingerbread to be baked in pans

Rub three pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, into four pounds of flour, add 20 eggs, 4 ounces ginger, 4 spoons rosewater, bake as No. 1 [15 minutes at 350 degrees].

 This softer version of gingerbread was more common in America. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, served her recipe for gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her Fredericksburg, Virginia, home. Since then it was known as Gingerbread Lafayette. The confection was passed down through the Washington family for generations.

Frosty and Rudolph

“Frosty the Snowman” is a popular Christmas song written by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson and first recorded by Gene Autry, in 1950. It was written after the success of Autry's recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” the previous year. The song recounts the fictional tale of Frosty, the snowman who is brought to life by a magical silk hat that a group of children find and place on his head. Although it is generally regarded as a Christmas song, the original lyrics make no mention of the holiday.

Frosty and Rudolph Christmas tree.


“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” popularly known as “Santa's ninth reindeer,” is a fabled reindeer created by Robert Lewis May. Rudolph is usually depicted as the lead reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, though he is a young buck who has only adolescent antlers and a glowing red nose. Though he receives scrutiny for it, his nose lights the path for Santa through harsh winter weather.

Rudolph first appeared in a 1939 booklet written by Robert L. May and published by Montgomery Ward, the department store. May, who was a copywriter for the store, created the poem about a misfit reindeer that the store could use as a promotional piece during the holiday season. May's brother-in-law was songwriter Johnny Marks and he developed the lyrics and melody. The story is owned by The Rudolph Company LP and has been adapted in numerous forms, including the popular song, the iconic 1964 television special and sequels, and a feature film and sequel. The year 2014 marked the 75th anniversary of the character and the 50th anniversary of the television special.